A/N: Thanks for waiting! I decided that I am no longer going to apologize for late updates – not by reason that I'm not deeply regretful and sorry for it , but by the fact that with me – and my busy schedules and impediments, I won't be able to update on a regular basis . It won't stop me from trying, though. The whole process of repeatedly apologizing is getting redundant, and has probably lost all genuinity to you guys, so, yeah. Thank you for sticking with this fic ! And for those of you new comers who luckily just found this and thus have had a long time of READING and not waiting, Welcome to another chapter !

Disclaimer: If I owned the Naruto series .. I would hate myself for wanting to own it in the first place. It's a lot of work, developing deep characters.

So, I decided that I'm really gonna start wrapping this story up. I had sorta envisioned a whole lot more plot twists and added things to make it much fuller and more of an actual thing, but, I realized it would take me sooo long to finish this – and that I'd have trouble writing the chapters, I would frustrate myself over how to present my ideas to you – and I just really want to get this done. Sooo ,
I'm taking Uchiha Madara out of it. Yes, I was going to brilliantly tie him into this story. And tieing him in the story would create a whole plethora of new openings for the characters, scenes, events, endings. But I've decided to abandon that desire. And thus, the entire plot of the story has been drastically changed, and a new path will lead me to a new appropriate ending. Hopefully.

You know me , I write as I go. So we'll see what happens with that.

For a warning, this chapter has a lot of flashbacks, and takes a bit of a different style that that standard that I used. Oh, and a great song to play throughout the course of this chapter would be. ... Naruto OST Shippuden track 11 .

Enjoy !

Behind the Smile

Chapter 40: This Too, Shall Pass

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"I never really thought about how I would die.
But, going in the place of someone else,
seems like a pretty good way to go."

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"What is it that's so hard about living, Sasuke?"

"..I don't know."

To hold his fists closed tight, as if the skin of his palms, the shield of his bloodied knuckles had grown fast to the rocky décor of the broken up street before him – to keep his knees steady, pressed down hard, the pointed rocks in upward thrust against his bone – not to feel that protrusion, not to feel the existence of his body, but only the blunted, unpenetrating pain: the burning, the experience of articulate stabbings against his distal neck, the unbearable sensation of it traveling throughout his body- to feel his body trembling in a long convulsive shudder – the nausea – to feel his stomach trembling, his lungs trembling, laboring for each derisively choked breath – to feel his whole consciousness focused on willing such a honed pressure of pain away – this was as the moment was for Uchiha Sasuke, as he had struggled to suppress the impeding torture that kept him still , that kept him holding grunts of pain in, that left him only to watch as the hand seals were being made before him .

"He would take your body just as easily as he would perform a jutsu .. you bear his mark, and that is why."

The insignificance one could feel at being able to do nothing in the face of their own death. The agony.

"SASUKE!" He was vaguely aware of the pounding, the numbing vibration of his eardrums against the penetrating sound of hollowed despair – screamed, bellowed – crackling with horror.

Flashback

For a long time the only sound was of a pattering ardor: raindrops harmoniously, yet mercilessly tapping against the cabin, letting the earth dance to its euphonic rhythm. The sound was somewhat dulled in the confines of the cabin that stood courageously against the beatings of the elemental torment.

It was dark in the cabin, still, motionless, serene.

There were two persons, held together in the bed resting against the far wall from the cabin's entrance. Intertwined under thin sheets they laid, as they had been for a while. Both were too relaxed, too comfortable, too lazy to move, even to attempt an impossibly closer proximity, closer than the skin to skin to which, minutely, wasn't quite satiating.

Flash

The thunder crackled as she finally transitioned her helpless gaze up to him. Emerald continuously wavered and twitched against the onslaught of pouring rain in an effort to continue her fearful stare.

He stood over her, like that, for a few moments longer before taking her shoulders and roughly pulling her up.

End Flash

Flash

She tried to push him away, her shaking palms planting themselves on the Uchiha's bare, strongly muscled chest as she turned her upper body away, tried to ignore the sparks than ran through her body in result. She had paused in surprise when his hands grabbed hers, holding them there above his heart. It was what brought her surprised gaze to look at their hands before slowly traveling up his soaked countenance to meet his intense gaze - her eyes widened, wavered continuously as what she saw in those depths stunned her, as the strong pattering of his heart moved her. Confused her.

End Flash

Flash

She didn't understand even as his hand moved up to cup her cheek, his thumb feathering along her delicate jawline. His fingertip traveled up her chin to find the satin perfection of her lower lip, stroking it ever so gently, cautiously - hesitantly, as if he were afraid, undecided. She didn't truly understand even as she saw that singular intent in his expression as that same hand slid around to the nape of her neck.

End Flash

"Why aren't you sleeping?"

His voice was the first to break the silence of night, the soothing rumble of his vocal cords tickling the side of her face as she rested it on his bare chest.

The rayed moonlight shining in through the lone window on the other side of the cabin room allowed a luminescent glow – one that colored Sakura's hair a light lavender color, framed her porcelain-like skin in pale colors; it even brought the illusion of sparkle to her eye lashes as they brushed against her upper cheek.

Her eyes remained closed, and she let out a deep, peaceful sigh.

"I'm afraid that if I don't hold onto you like this, that if I don't stay aware of you like this, that you'll disappear. That you'll fade away" There was no tension in her voice, no angst to the reality of what she said. She was calm, willing in presenting her every fear to him.

He responded immediately to what she had said, however it was not in a hurry, but in a calm assurance.

"I won't be gone when you wake up." Tone flat, soft, legit – genuine in that promise.

She smiled into him, as if his words, even though true, weren't meant for the reality in which she thought of, weren't applied to the situation in which she bided her time by. Yet she was thankful for that moment in which he assured her, however it wasn't a presence she was concerned with at the moment, but time.

Her voice was both luring and soft as she continued.

"The longer I stay awake, the longer this moment will last." She said this as she would in describing the weather; there was no hint of despair nor worry. She said it as it was, she said it as was true. She did not seem wary in admitting such a thing to him.

End Flashback

In his gaze he was aware of no peripheral vision, aware of no alternate occurrence or presence than that which was before him, than that which threatened him. The wide-stature of his Sharingan gaze only amplified this experience of perception, the inevitability of the imminent end. It was a funny thing, that of all that he could do, he would do the one thing that provided more entertainment to his destroyer, that provided a showcase of his surprise, of his fear at the hand of his death.

"Do you not have a reason to live?"

"No."

No, fear wasn't it. He was not accustomed to fear as he looked on to the chakra build up before him – he was not akin to worry as he felt the oddly cold sensation of a chakra seal spreading to the ground underneath him, diseased, unbelonging. He could only inwardly scoff at the brevity that that's what it would be mistaken for: fear in the face of his death. But that couldn't possibly be it. He would know if it was. Death: it wasn't something he feared; and it was because of that, because of that reality that he was perplexed in that moment; because something had changed. He could only wonder why – when this moment: this end, this release, this absolving of any suffering, this peace was what he had spent years waiting for, what he had used to wish for – he didn't want it. He didn't want it anymore.

Why?

Flashback

"Why?" He finally said. His tone was completely questioning, as if he was confused.

There was a pause. She had meaningfully looked into his face, studied him, examined the context to which he asked the question. She pondered if it was in his delirium that he sought an answer, or in his heart.

"I'm not afraid to die, Sakura." His voice was still low, weak, echoing of his weakened, pained state.

Sakura continued to look into his eyes, trying to read his expression. Trying not to notice the way his unconscious body shifted, due to his discomfort, sent sparks traveling throughout her body. She tried to ignore the pressure that was threatening to crush her heart. She didn't know what to tell him, how to answer it without begging him to think differently.

"I know." She whispered, her words coming out in one shaky breath.

"I.. I didn't ask you to do anything for me." He said.

"I know." She repeated again, a sad smile making its way to her lips.

"Then why?" His question was absolutely genuine.

When he asked Sakura that question – before he had succumbed to the darkness of unconsciousness once again, the pressure and weight of her body to much pain – he had wondered; he had wondered if he was asking her that question – asking her why she sacrificed her health for his, or asking himself: asking himself why he fought to live, why, for what purpose?

He wouldn't have in any other scenario – alone, in his own company, without her.

End Flashback

He struggled with the answer in that one moment, even as his gaze slowly raised with Orochimaru's splayed hands. He wondered even as he felt his heart beat racing with an anticipation – the yearning of his body for this release; he wondered as his mind fought his body's urge for surrender, calculated an escape route that was unlikely, impossible. He wondered why his heart beat frantically with a determination that had no motivation, with a trepidation that had no fear.

He knew unconsciously that part of him had come to face Orochimaru in the hopes of such an end – he knew it, and would not deny that; but, the part of him that refused this reason, found another foundation for his being here, contemplated such a thing. And so he wondered why he put himself in a danger that he had no plan on letting ensue. He wondered why he willingly placed himself in this position of imminent doom, but wanted to overcome it, escape it.

"Why did you come here? It's dangerous being near Orochimaru, Sasuke."

"I don't care about that, Sakura."

And he found no words, he found no explanation, only an image. Such a thing that resolved his confusion, such a thing that eliminated any doubts. Soft, vibrant, beautiful. Locks of pink-colored hair dancing with the current breeze, attempting a meek covering of the porcelain face beneath it. Shimmering emerald orbs, heart-stopping smile.

And it was in that moment, that he heard the first whisper in his mind.

Sasuke-kun

It was that whisperance of an utter, the brushing of butterfly wings against his mind, a soothing that allowed his mind to depart from the impending end before him; it was that call that transitioned his gaze to find her; it was that promise of salvation that allowed him a glimmer of hope.

Flashback

"..It wasn't my only goal." He said flatly, though almost with a sort of pondering. He said this as someone who was admitting something would, almost as if he was possibly disappointed. Feeling bereft.

"Oh there was reviving your clan.."

"No." He said this immediately, almost cutting her off. "Not that."

She was actually a bit surprised at his answer. She knew reviving his clan was one of his goals, but it seemed it wasn't as high on the list anymore. It made her wonder why. It also made her wonder what goal could be so high, that it surpassed his want for revival of his clan.

"Then..what?"

End Flashback

He wasn't aware of the three comrades rushing towards him and those who sought to destroy him, he wasn't aware of anything but her, he looked at nothing but her.

She was motioning to him, he could feel it. He could feel the sudden warmth butterflying inside of him, the assurance as his gaze met hers – as his Sharingan rested compliant to her glowing pink. She was calm, fooling his earlier belief that the scream only moments earlier had come from her. She beckoned to him with those eyes, commanded him.

Everything halted. His own bodily occurrences hushed. He wasn't aware nor did he care of the prickling sensation of hostile chakra in the form of two large hands beginning to surround him from all sides, attempting to engulf him– it was only brief that he caught the worry from her; such a moment disappeared, was replaced with an induced calm as she seemed to have a purpose for him, as she was determined to do something, as she commanded his full awareness and compliance. She already had it.

Time was still seemingly stopped as his eyes remained unmovingly captive to hers; the glowing steadiness of her pink orbs ushered a tranquility, silenced the pounding of his heart, the chaos of his mind: it left nothing but a focus on her ends. This calm allowed him back his peripheral vision – he had followed in this the movement of her lips – followed in this the soft reverberation throughout his soul. She commanded of him, begged of him something that he wasn't sure he could accomplish.

Doubt and speculation.

"Sakura…what you want..It's impossible."

Cause and implementation.

Move

In was in that beautiful, urgently harsh yet soft whisper of hers within his mind, in the alluring movement of her lips that he received his command. That he received his strength.

And everything started to move again.

"One second. That is all he needs, little brother, and he will have you."

It all seemed to go in slow motion as they all had come together, and a second had passed before it was over.

Sasuke did not pay attention as two figures appeared next to him, clashing with Orochimaru and Kabuto, he was determinedly focused on his window of opportunity; his gaze was glued to Sakura, perceiving her through the small gap in the hands that were forming, threatening a closing all around him. He only felt the warming pink chakra that had begun to surround him like a second layer of skin, revitalizing him for the task he was to accomplish. For his survival.

"You didn't beleive redemption lied for a fool on such a path as you were. But she showed you otherwise, didn't she? "

It was in the moment before he miraculously moved - before he took that monumental, excruciatingly painful leap from his grounded position, that he had realized why he didn't want to die. He thought about it as he prepared himself for the added pain of crashing into the broken up ground; he continued reveling over it as he landed softly, the pink chakra surrounding him cushioning the blow. Had the continuing pain of the curse seal and his other agonizing injuries not been so severe, he would have lifted his head to look back at Kakashi and Jiraiya – the ones who had bided part of his escape – as they took to their respective battles with Orochimaru and Kabuto. Had he not been all-focusing on maintaining his labored, ragged breaths, he would have looked up to his brother as the older Uchiha quickly supported him into a standing position – one arm around his torso, placing his own arm over his shoulder; he might have even added more strength to his legs to help support his own dead weight, instead of allowing his near dangling from Itachi's hold.

Had he not been so deliriously exhausted from his depletion of chakra and loss of blood, he might have had the awareness to notice when they reappeared to the one who had truly saved him; he might have sensed her dangerously low-chakra; he might have been able to meet her weary, hysterically-relieved emerald gaze before he fell into a state of stark, opaque unconsciousness. Heck, he might have even been able to tell her the realization that came to mind with his near-death; he might have been able to tell Haruno Sakura that she was the reason.

His reason for living.

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"Sakura-san, are you able to get him away from here?" She barely heard him as she desperately gathered Sasuke's unconscious form against her; he rested, cradled within her lap as she hunched over him – there was a desperate air about her hold on him, even as she used her bear hand to wipe the smeared sweat and blood off his forehead. He looked broken, lifeless – she could barely find that low, dwindling pulse of chakra in his core, striving for rejuvenation. She had almost lost him, that was all she thought about as she barely heard Itachi's question, as she fought the dizziness that sought to fuzzy her thinking, hinder her answer.

"Yes," She struggled to transition her exhausted gaze up to Itachi's face; he had just risen from his earlier crouch as he placed Sasuke in Sakura's arms; he kept his unmoving, stern gaze upon her – seemingly aware of her state, in correlation to that of Sasuke's. He respectfully waited for her new words. "But what about you?"

The impending situation seemed to weigh heavily on her heart - it was why she asked that question, when she wouldn't have before. She was worried, and she didn't know why.

"I am of no use to you in helping Sasuke. I can do nothing." Even in his emotionless tone, she could imagine the regret that directed his words, the worry. For some reason she wanted to deny his words, tell him that he could just be there, support him with his presence; he didn't have to donate chakra or know how to heal. She wanted to say there was room for him, in the realm of peace, with them. She didn't know why she didn't.

"I must stay in this vicinity to help destroy Orochimaru . . . although I fear it may not be the last battle I partake in."

Her emerald orbs wavered as she tried to read him, tried to understand what he meant, find out what deep-founded worries influenced his thoughts, the anger. Had Itachi not had as much self-control and perfection of his demeanor as he did, she was sure he'd be trembling with the fury that she knew he harbored – she was sure he'd would be weeping with the sorrow both she and he felt. She had sensed it earlier, and now that sensation seemed to have escalated with what had almost happened to Sasuke. She knew he blamed it on himself.

She watched as he looked to the spot where Naruto appeared next to her, before he had even arrived. It seemed he had been waiting for the blonde-haired ninja before he would take his departure. "Please take him away from here, so that Orochimaru has no chance of coming near him again. If he does, it will all be over. I will do my part in preventing that occurrence."

"So will I," Naruto agreed as he gravely looked to the younger Uchiha. He seemed intending to go with Sakura, and she seemed to have picked up on that. She could see the tension in him, the worry, the agitation, she could feel that he was torn, even as he had determinedly focused himself with hers and Sasuke's protection.

Itachi took one last glance to Sasuke, focusing on the strange markings that covered the younger Uchiha's entire arm. He tore it away as if it were unbearable to look at him any longer. And he looked to her, his gaze to her softer than she had ever seen, nor could imagine.

"I owe you a debt that can never be repaid, Haruno Sakura." He seemed well aware of what she had done to help them retrieve his younger brother from Orochimaru's grasp. "For his life, and for mine."

And then he was gone.

Sakura stared at the spot he had disappeared, her stare unblinking, unmoving. Her briefly wide emerald gaze had defeatedly lessened to a saddened wavering; the sound of her own deep, shaky breath was almost deafening to her.

For some odd, strangely heart-breaking reason, she felt as if those would be the last words she ever heard from him – and she didn't know if it just meant for a long while, or for worse. She didn't know why, and she let herself briefly hope to whatever was good in the world that it wouldn't be true, that she was just too out of it to think right. She had wanted to wish him well – even though this moment, on the surface, didn't seem to call for it; it was deeper than that, on the inside, that she wanted to. Even though the fact that they bore no goodbyes left room for hope of meeting him again, it allowed her no closure, acceptance for the case if she didn't not see him again. And that was just it, this feeling, this sentimentality that came charging at her: it beat at her insides, it choked at her throat.

It was unreasonable.

She was used to fighting reason with reason, emotions with logic, hardship with perseverance. What was she to fight this unreasonable, absurdly sentimental and illogical disturbance with?

Maybe it wasn't just the fact that he had disappeared, maybe it wasn't that she didn't get to tell him to be safe; it was his words, the finality in them. It was much worse than a goodbye. It was a surrender. She interpreted last words to her as his succinct explanation for why he would not go with them to safety. Why he would stay in danger, when he finally had the chance, the choice to choose a freedom. He was a martyr, that's the reality – that was the secret she got from him.

It was the enormity of that feeling, the realization of her intuition, that made her think of the future before them; it broadened the reality of what was going to happen, it pressured the actuality that all their choices from this moment, right now, would be impossible to turn back on.

It made her think of much larger things that what was happening right now. It gave her a painful pinch to her heart as she watched Naruto hesistantly return to a standing position.

Right in that moment, she wanted to cry.

She wanted to cry as she looked back down to Sasuke's motionless figure, his breathing was too slow, soundless, the rising and falling of his chest minutely nonexistent. She wanted to cry as she looked to Naruto's rigid figure, tormented by the decisions he had little time to make.

A large explosion in the distance was large enough to shake the earth around them – for a moment it brought her back to the scenario larger than Sasuke; Konoha was being destroyed, their home would be no more, at a time very soon. She looked to Naruto, who had suddenly clenched his fists, gritted his teeth. His cerulean gaze burned with intensity as he had transitioned it to look in the distance. He was struggling with the acceptance of it all, when he knew that he had the chance to change it.

It was then that she realized she could not ask of him what he was so willing to offer.

She knew she would be gone for a long time, gone from Konoha – whether it stood standing or was destroyed. She had taken her choice between the future of Konoha and of Sasuke's protection, survival - he was her only goal right now, and she was not ashamed of it. But Naruto, he had more responsibility, more to lose with Konoha's destruction. He had more aspirations for their home village than she could ever have.. but, he possibly even had more affection, more love for Sasuke, as a brother, as a best friend, than she might ever compare hers to, than he might ever admit.

She didn't want Naruto to have to choose such a painfully-difficult thing for him as easily as she had.

"Naruto," Her emerald gaze was soft, understanding, decided with finality as she called his gaze back to her.

"Saaaaaakuura-chan!"

It was in that moment that she felt her deep affection and caring for her own best friend – the one that had been through it all with her. The one who would never leave her side of his own conviction. She wanted to be selfish, she wanted to ask him to come with her, with her and Sasuke, so that they could finally be a trio again - knowing he would. Knowing he would without a second thought. But it was finally time for her to sacrifice, sacrifice for him as he had done so much for her.

Flashback

"Let me fight, Naruto." She glanced back at him, putting a small smile on her face. "Let me fight this time."

End Flashback

Despite how much she knew he was torn, knew how devastating these options were for him, she saw the moment that he thought to reject the words she was about to say, to stand in opposition to the freedom she was giving him.

She shook her head, a sad smile gracing her lips.

"Konoha needs you, more than I do."

They shared no words a few moments after that. They were both too hesitant and unsure to put words to what they were feeling, what they were fearing. The moment seemed too final for them to support it with farewells, to ensure it with impossible explanations.

The spot where they once resided, in the area of Konoha most destroyed, was vacant. They had left, they had moved forward. They went towards their future hesitantly, but with a determination that did not let them look back to the past. They had already crossed that threshold long ago.

Some would call it denial what they did, avoiding the seemingly truth of what was happening around them. Some would call it cowardice how they avoided the subject of isolation from one another. Some would call it honorable how they left that small emptiness in their hearts for hope, instead of filling it with closure. But they thought of it more as an insurance policy – one that would cover them in their time of need, as long as they put hard work into maintaining it, into keeping their supplier of good faith healthy and untainted with doubt. It was all they could do to prevent them from giving in. From destroying themselves with greif, fear of what the future would bring.

And even if it was denial, at that moment, it felt pretty reassuring.

"From here on out, a new path opens for all of us."

Flashback

Haruno Sakura ran up the large hill with the glee of a child; her sparkling, giddy emerald gaze was pinned on the tree at its peak. It was a cherry blossom tree, it's perfectly white flowers swaying ever so gently with the non-threatening breeze.

"Wow! It's already bloomed so early!" Her excited squeal mentioned the excitement in her heart. She knew the others had heard her, they were still joyously walking up the hill behind her. She turned to face them, watching as they made their way towards her. She threw her arms back in a lock behind her, eyes closed in glee as she showed them the best smile to represent her happy feelings.

Uzumaki Naruto had a goofy, teeth-baring smile on his face in greeting to Sakura's enthusiasm. Uchiha Sasuke had peacefully closed his eyes, letting out an amused grunt; he opened them again to watch as Naruto ran the rest of the way up their teammate, their friend. Kakashi was a little ways behind them all, admiring the tranquility of the moment, enjoying watching the three interact so happily.

"This is going to be our designated tree!" Naruto beamed, placing his closed fists on his hips, his chest triumphantly puffing up towards the tree. "What do you think, Sasuke?"

They both looked to Sasuke, noticing that even he had a slight grin on his face. As usual his hands were in his pockets; and as he closed his eyes yet again, smirking even more, it was an approval of their plan. If it was possible, Sakura smiled even brighter, letting out a small laugh of enjoyment at the news. She was in a good mood that day, she felt she could burst out laughing for no reason, run for miles nonstop, catch butterflies. "Naruto! You brought the camera right?"

"This thing, yeah?" He lazily pulled a contraption out his his pouch by the string, peculiarly looking at it as he held the string with two fingers in front of him. It was almost cute how paid no mind to the electronic stuff. "I have no idea how to work it, though." He scratched his head in puzzlement.

"No worries, sensei is here." Kakashi spoke this whimsically as he took the camera from Naruto. He let his students, lead by Sakura, make their way up the tree before he messed around with a few of the buttons. The timer was set, and he placed it on the grass. Not a moment passed before their sensei reappeared behind his students. He put his two hands behind Sasuke and Naruto's heads, splitting his index and middle finger into "V" shapes.

Meanwhile, Naruto, feeling naughtily playful, leaned over Sakura in an attempt to give Sasuke a quick push to fall of the tree. Before he even accomplished this task, Sakura, annoyed by the fact that he was leaning over her and messing with Sasuke, punched Naruto. It was at that moment that the camera decided to snap.

In the picture, Kakashi was still behind the trio, a huge smile on his face. He had somehow managed to take out his Icha Icha paradise book. Sasuke had his arms crossed over his chest, his eyes closed as he was in the motion of shaking his head in embarrassment. Sakura still had her fist posed, her face scrunched up in an irritated matter, meaning her mouth was wide open as she must have yelled "baka". Naruto was in the motion of reaching out in front of him, as he began to fall backwards.

End Flashback

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With each new explosion introduced to the area, a lone picture, resting in solitude atop a dresser, inched nearer to the edge. It had already collapsed, face down – and it was only a matter of caliber before it no longer remained. It seemed as if it had a life of it's own, as if it were trying with all its might to stay atop to dresser, to stay intact, unscathed.

It was the explosion that blew a hole into the wall behind the dresser that sent the dresser toppling over, and the picture frame catapulting off of it.

It seemed to go in slow motion as the picture frame twirled, it's momentum dangerously hazardous to its impending condition.

When it made contact with the floor, the shattering of the glass sounded with another far away explosion; as the picture frame trembled to a stillness, there were no more explosions.

The picture was of Team Seven; the picture was of three best friends amidst the branches of a blooming Sakura tree. The picture was destroyed.

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"Sakura-chan .. I'll come find you… When this is over I'll find you both, I promise you that."


Thanks For Reading!

Yeah, this was more of a filler chapter than anything, didn't get too far in the plot, but it was needed in my opinion.
So that I could plan how I want this to go, and so that I could satisfy you guys with another update.
Wishfully it wasn't too confusing or a waste. I was kinda in a weird mood writing this, so it might be a bit out of the box.
Major focus on sentimentality, neh?

Ja ne !